AW should give Szczesny a go
With Arsenal's goalkeeping woes clear for all to see, TEAMtalk's Ian Watson questions Arsene Wenger's refusal to blood Wojciech Szczesny. With every Manuel Almunia-calamity or Lukasz Fabianski-catastrophe, the criticism of Wenger for not buying a goalkeeper during the transfer window grows louder and louder. As his 'keepers cost him dear, however, the Arsenal boss has appeared calm and content with his goalkeeping options, especially with 20-year-old Szczesny, who Wenger previously claimed is a certainty to be a Gunners number one. But despite the praise the Frenchman has bestowed upon his prodigious Pole, mysteriously, Wenger has so far refused to give his "future great, great goalkeeper" even the sniff of a first-team chance. Szczesny was brought to England from Legia Warsaw at the age of 16, and has earned rave reviews as he has come up through the Gunners ranks. His progress lead to a loan spell last season at Brentford, where he kept 10 clean sheets in 28 appearances during an impressive period with the Bees that resulted in many suggesting that Szczesny is ready to build on his solitary Gunners appearance - a Carling Cup tie against West Brom a year ago. Wenger, though, appears not to subscribe to that view and his reluctance to blood Szczesny is as unfathomable to outsiders as it is worrying to the Gunners faithful. The manager is clearly keen not to jeopardise the keeper's development but Szczesny is not a kid anymore and he has already expressed his frustration at being held back, telling Polish newspaper 'Gazeta Wyborcza' earlier this month that Wenger is "avoiding me at every occasion". With Szczesny's contract up at the end of the season, Wenger's softly-softly approach risks alienating his prodigy, while his stubborn refusal to look beyond Almunia and Fabianski will surely continue to see the title-chasers drop precious points. At 20, Szczesny is young but he's not a novice. After his highly-successful loan spell at Griffin Park, the goalkeeper returned to the Emirates this term keen to prove himself worthy of first-team involvement under Wenger. That clearly has not happened. Szczesny did not even make the bench for the Carling Cup win at Tottenham last week, with Wenger opting to keep Almunia in reserve, with Fabianski getting the nod, and again, the jitters. With this being a recurring theme with Arsenal keepers, what is the benefit in persisting with the dithering duo, and where does the harm lie in giving Szczesny a shot? Let's be honest, the goalkeeping bar has never been lower at Arsenal, so blooding the Pole from the start in Belgrade tonight can surely do no harm, neither to his development nor the club's Champions League prospects. Those hopes are already held in the greasy palms of two error-prone stoppers, so Szczesny can at least be safe in the knowledge that he could not let the Gunners down anymore than the pair in front of him previously have, while any mistake will be greeted with far more understanding and patience from the Arsenal supporters, who have long-since grown tired of seeing Almunia and Fabianski commit blunder after blunder. Wenger, to be fair, has had his fingers burnt in the past with young keepers. As a successor to the great David Seaman, big-money buy Richard Wright was a disaster and Fabianski is all-too-real proof of what can happen by putting a youngster in the firing line when he is not ready. But everything points to Szczesny being ready for the next step. Brentford boss Andy Scott vouches for his ability, and insists the keeper would not be out of place in the Premier League. Gunners legend and former coach Bob Wilson is among the goalkeeping experts who rave about him and the uber-confident Szczesny himself claims: "I have proved that I can do a job for Arsenal and now I want to see if I can really do it." Szczesny is clearly growing impatient and understandably so. Other young goalkeepers have thrived in the spotlight at a young age, with 19-year-old Europa League winner David De Gea continuing to earn rave reviews at Atletico Madrid, while Iker Casillas (18), Gigi Buffon (18), Hugo Lloris (20) and Manuel Neuer (20) have all been trusted with a number one jersey at earlier stages in their road to the top than the crossroads at which Szczesny currently finds himself. Wenger prides himself on giving youngsters their chance at the highest level where other managers would not have the bravery to do so, but this courage clearly does not extend to goalkeepers. His blind spot when it comes to the last line of his defence is seriously threatening to cost the Gunners any chance of silverware come the end of the season, and possibly one very capable-but-discouraged young custodian.
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